by Anne R. Allen
Authors are getting hammered with more and more demands on our time. We get escalating pressure to blog more! tweet more!! send more newsletters!!! churn out 12 books a year!!!!
And don’t query unless your Klout rating is as high as Justin Beiber’s !!!!!
It’s making us all feel as if what we do is never enough, as Nathan Bransford lamented last week.
“It never feels like there are enough hours in the day, or days in the weeks, or weeks in the months, or months in the year. Time slips away, and with it a chance to accomplish something or edge closer to your dream. Social media only adds to the pressure.”
People are completing novels and making New York Times bestseller lists and curing cancer while juggling on a unicycle and it all looks so effortless and who needs sleep anyway??”
I’ve addressed the problem myself in my post Why Are We Running as Fast As We Can to Stay in the Same Place?
Porter Anderson of Writing on the Ether responded to Nathan with a post of his own, where he said,
“Remember the early XM Radio slogan? ‘Everything. All The Time.’ Are we really going to be able to sustain this?”
No. We aren’t.
We are creative human beings, not machines, and creativity is subject to departure without notice, leaving depression and anxiety in its wake. In succumbing to the pressure, we are abusing ourselves—risking physical and mental illness. Plus we’re increasing the pressure on all our colleagues by appearing to be that magic “unicyclist” Nathan talks about.
Thing is: A lot of the pressure comes from misinformation and old news.
The online world reinvents itself at least every two years, and the creaky old publishing business has a hard time keeping up. They’ve jumped on the social media party train, but unfortunately, they sometimes jump on the caboose instead of the engine.
A lot of the things publicists and marketers are asking authors to do are time-wasters that have been overused, are no longer relevant, or have no impact on sales.
If you’re in a master/slave relationship with an agent or publisher, you may be forced to do this stuff. But you can be excused for slipping a link to this post into your next email.
And if you’re an indie, you can ignore it all and do what actually works. (And please, stop trying to manipulate your fellow authors into doing this stuff for you.)
Right now what works is having lots of sales and freebies and—if you can afford it—advertising them on vetted newsletters like Bookbub.
But next week it will probably be something different. This business is changing by the nanosecond.
The only thing that can be counted on to enhance your visibility as a writer is to interact with readers in a real, honest, and generous way on the social media platform of your choice, as Hugh Howey has showed us. He said he focused on the readers he already had instead of trolling the universe for more. When you create the kind of goodwill and loyal fan base he has, word of mouth spreads news of your books. That way you get those “1000 true fans” instead of amassing pointless lists of numbers.
Here’s stuff that doesn’t work, wastes time, and could lead to serious burnout:
1) Racking up 1000s of Twitter followers
The only followers that matter are the ones who read your books and blogposts and interact with you. Any others are meaningless.
I’m amazed at all the spam I get offering to sell me followers. A “follower” whose identity has been obtained by fraud and sold is not going to be a willing customer.
Buying thousands of Twitter followers and calling it a “platform” is like renting a lot of empty safety deposit boxes and saying you’re rich.
And paying somebody to send out a stream of tweets saying “buy my book” to a bunch of strangers is pointless, too. I don’t know anybody who has ever bought a book because they were ordered to in a tweet by a stranger.
An author with fifty engaged fans on Twitter is going to be far more effective than one with a thousand detached strangers, all of whom are purchased and/or are other authors racking up follower numbers, too.
Another thing that publicists and marketers love that will not gain you any readers: automating Tweets, especially auto-responds that say “buy my book, minion!” and asking your Tweeps to do your marketing for you. Auto-responses to a follow usually get an auto-unfollow, and publicists who insist you put one on your Twitter account are clueless.
2) Madly promoting your “Like” page on Facebook
People actually pay for ads on Facebook and give prizes to readers in order to get more “likes” for an author page. But a post on an author “like” page will only get a dozen or so views now—unless you pay extra fees—and you’re not allowed to interact on other pages or groups unless you have a personal page as well. This means a “like” page is far less important than it used to be.
It’s probably a good idea to have an author “like” page so you have a Facebook presence—like having an ad in the Yellow Pages—but the number of “likes” has no impact on book sales. (Ditto Amazon author page “likes”.)
A personal Facebook page is much more useful, but if you sign up for a personal page, you open a whole new worm-can. You’re at the mercy of malevolent fellow authors who mark your blog links as “spam” in order to get you put into FB jail and block people from visiting your blog. There are no humans at FB to contact to report this kind of abuse. Believe me. I have sent at least two complaining emails a week to dozens of addresses. I have never had a response, and they still block this blog as spam.
At the same time, Facebook encourages real spammers, scammers and gamers who try to trick you into giving the personal information of all your friends so they can sell it to marketers.
And as far as privacy goes—you might as well live in a picture window like an Amsterdam hooker. (NSA, eat your heart out: Facebook has been invading our privacy for years in ways governments can only dream about.)
For me, Facebook is only useful to network with other writers in the various FB writing groups and to announce freebie and sale days on pages like Free Kindle and Nook Deals , 99 Cent Kindle Deals. (There are hundreds of these. It’s kind of a crapshoot which ones will work.)
Requiring an author to have a certain number of Facebook likes/friends is even more pointless than the Twitter-follower thing, since you have to pay to have any of these people see your posts.
Even simply commenting regularly on blogs like this one can help form community and get your name out there. If I see a new book by somebody who’s commented on my blog, or Kristen’s or Nathan’s—yeah, you bet I’m going to check it out. Much more than if I get a notice of a book launch from one of my 600 “friends” on Facebook.
3) Amassing a huge list of email addresses for a newsletter
I’ve resisted the pressure to start up a newsletter. I do send a private email to a few selected friends to announce new blogposts, but that’s it. That’s because I hate newsletters. They’re mostly rehashed content from blogs or websites and chest-beating self-praise.
A lot of spam-blocker programers seem to feel the same way, because most spam-blockers will block anything sent to more than ten addresses.
So I was so glad to run across a post from marketing guru Jon Morrow last week called “Why You Shouldn’t Create a Newsletter.”
“Newsletters are so 2005” is the way he put it. He says blogs are much more effective, and it’s annoying overkill to have both.
He says, “publishing [used to be] a one-way street. You wrote a newsletter, article, or white paper, sent it to your readers, and they either read it or ignored it. End of story.With social media though, communication now flows both ways.
Yes, we still publish information, but now our readers respond back to us, leaving comments, sharing with their friends, and linking to us from their own blogs and websites. It’s a complete game changer.
Rather than publishing an article you like and hoping your readers enjoy it, now you know what they think within a matter of minutes. You can also compare the response to different articles to see what your readers enjoy most.”
He also points out that blogposts can be tweeted and shared with thousands, instead of forwarded to one person (if you’re lucky.)
In other words: newsletters are old news.
And as for sending them out to everybody who has ever commented on your blog or emailed you: just don’t. No matter how much your marketing department hammers you to do it. Not only is it likely to end up in a spam folder, but mass-marketing to people who are not your fans only annoys them.
Establish an enticing blog and enable email subscriptions to blog updates. It’s more interactive and up-to-date than a newsletter and accomplishes the same goal.
4) Participating in expensive, grueling blog tours
I’m not against blog tours. My sales spike when I visit other blogs. And a professional blog tour organizer can be hugely valuable in helping you target blogs where your potential readers congregate.
But those big, month-long “blog tours” are usually too expensive to be cost-effective and often create an unpleasant experience for authors and bloggers alike.
Part of the problem is that the publicist or marketer who sends you on the “tour” is making money, and the tour host is making money—but the bloggers you visit aren’t making a dime. These are the people who are doing the actual work of reading, reviewing and interviewing. It can make for an unbalanced relationship that can cause bad feelings on both sides.
I know for a fact that many blog tour organizers do not do their homework, because they’re always writing asking me to review books.
Um, see any book reviews around here?
Ebooks do not have to be marketed like pbooks with a big splashy launch and a “tour”. You can build readership slowly, since e-retailers have infinite shelf space and your book won’t be returned if it doesn’t make huge sales in its first month.
That means the blog-till-you-drop $2000 blog tour is idiotic.
Instead, you can guest blog once or twice a month throughout the year. And instead of paying somebody to find the bloggers—who may be burned out by the time you show up—network with book bloggers in your genre yourself. Read their reviews and interviews and comment on them. Devoting a few minutes a day to “blog touring” instead of an intense, soul-crushing month will bring you better rewards.
Or visit five or six blogs at the time of your launch instead of fifty. A blog tour service that’s very affordable and allows for small tours is Black, White, and Read Tours, which was formed by three book bloggers who only charge a small amount for their time and have respectful relationships with the bloggers you’ll visit.
5) Blogging every day
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know how I feel about frantic, frequent blog-posting. I’m an advocate of Slow Blogging. You can read about the Slow Blog Manifesto here.
Advice to blog every day comes from the Jurassic days of the Weblog, when there were maybe 10,000 of them, not uncountable billions. Your readers can’t keep up. Bloggers who blog every day are likely to
1) Blather-blog, because they run out of things to say
2) Burn themselves out.
3) Have no time to write new books
4) Annoy readers with too many notifications of new posts.
I’m so grateful to bloggers who only have one or two great posts a month. I can enjoy their work instead of tearing through it or feeling guilty I’m skipping it.
A blog is the best place to establish a Web presence, build platform and interact with readers, but you can do that with weekly or bi-weekly posts.
Remember readers have lives. And chances are very good they don’t revolve around you.
6) Blog hopping
Blog Hops are big in the indie author community and can be fun. They’re a good way for newbies to meet and network with other writers and get some blog followers when you’re starting out.
But when you’re a working, publishing author, a blog hop can be a huge time suck that offers little reward. They generally don’t reach readers—just other authors, who are not your best audience.
“Hops” often involve a big prize like an iPad to be given in some contest that involves Tweeting frantically and making lots of comments on dozens of blogs. Everybody contributes a chunk of cash and some blocked author with nothing to do but Tweet and comment for a week gets an iPad.
Nice for the blocked author. Pointless for everybody else.
On the other hand, getting together with fellow authors in your genre to do a joint sale or promotion can be very successful, as I found out teaming up with other members of the “Official Chick Lit Group” on Facebook. We all posted an ad for the promo on our blogs, but didn’t have to hop around to every blog or write timewasting posts and identical, inane comments. A much better use of everybody’s time.
7) Worrying about your Klout, PeerIndex or other social media rating
Social media ranking systems like Klout and PeerIndex show one thing: how much time you spend on the Internet instead of writing books. If you’re dealing with marketers who are in love with numbers for their own sake, I hereby bestow a rank of 10 million ARA points on each of you.
When somebody puts you down for not having a Klout rating over 80, just roll your eyes and say “Klout is so over. I have 10 million ARA points.”
Then get out the smelling salts. Big, meaningless numbers make these people swoon.
The best way to sell books is to write more books. Good ones. There may be authors who can actually churn out twelve good books a year, but I sure can’t. None of my favorite authors can either. A good book is thoughtful and reflects life experience.
If you’re chained to your computer, mindlessly Tweeting, blogging about your writer’s block, and posting LOL Cat pictures to Facebook, you’re not experiencing life, so you’re not going to have much to write about.
Yes, we all have to be on social media. An author needs to have a Web presence, be Googleable, and offer fans a way to interact. But we need to be smart about it—and never forget our main job is to write those books.
Posted by Anne R. Allen (@annerallen) June 16, 2013
What about you, scriveners? Do you feel pressured to waste time in frantic busy-work? What do you find sells books right now? Can you recommend a smaller social network where writers and readers can get to know each other?
“The Best Revenge, Ghost Writers in the Sky and Sherwood Limited are hysterical. Anne Allen will keep you laughing throughout, but in the meantime she dabbles her fingers in some topics worth some serious thought: sexism, weightism, lechery, murder, duplicity, homelessness & poverty to name a few. If you love to laugh, you’ll like these three books. If you love to think, ponder AND laugh, be ready to fall in love”… C.S. Perryess
And if you want to read more of my deathless prose, I’ll be visiting Alex J. Cavanaugh’s blog on Monday, June 17, to talk about what inspired my latest Camilla mystery, No Place Like Home.